The Holiness of Rest

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I remember the first alarm clock I got as a kid. The clicking of the literal turn of time could be heard through the night. 


One minute. Click. 3 a.m. Click. 


As I reflect on it now, I was measuring my sleep without even knowing it. Far more sophisticated devices now can easily measure the quality of our sleep, not merely its length. Frankly, though, the real measure of the quality of my sleep shows up throughout my day. 


I don’t need a device to let me know that I am mentally disengaging in a meeting, dismissive of a colleague, too quick (or slow) in a decision, deaf to the words of my wife. These are all impacted by my sleep. But more importantly, they are determined by my rest. I can get a great night’s sleep and still lack rest.


Rest shows up in the Bible more quickly than does sleep


The end of the creation narrative reveals a God at rest (Gen. 2:3). The Hebrew word shabbat, at its core, means “to cease.” God’s activity of creating caused no fatigue, no increased heart rate, no heavy breathing. Yet, on the seventh day, He rested. 


Nuance exists in this usage of shabbat. Sabbath rest involves ceasing, reflecting, and celebrating the goodness of that which has preceded it. God stops the work to celebrate its goodness. 


The writer even goes so far as to say that God made shabbat holy. So, get this: The first “thing” God declared holy in Scripture isn’t a thing at all. Time. Our treatment of rest as holy then makes our living within all time as holy for rest properly orients us to the God who is pervasively and persistently being God. 


Rest disabuses us of our addictive need to control time, violently coercing its contours to meet our demands. Scrolling through social media feeds, racking up likes, trading intimacy for mere familiarity, knowing for knowing about.


Perhaps as we enter a new year, we might consider an increase in our rest as an invitation into that which is holy. 


Recently, on Sundays, I have begun a tech Sabbath in which I turn notifications off on my phone, check no e-mail, scroll no feeds. I put my phone away. The holiness of the space becomes palpable in its ordinariness as I begin to feel and enjoy my humanness, what I have been created to be. Nature’s colors caress and the whispering sounds of the Garden seduce. And the God who walks in the cool of the evenings invites me to journey with Him into all of life.


Questions to consider:

1. What’s one way in which you can prioritize rest this week?

2. What indicators exist in your own life when your rest lacks quality?

3. Who might be a good person in your life to help you more consistently rest well?


By Matt Benson

University Professor


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